Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A Lesson Plan for Teaching Intelligent Design

Across the country, Fundamentalist Christian activists are working at the state and local level to have Intelligent Design (ID) taught in public school science classes. As a body of knowledge or an intellectual process, ID is not art. It is not plumbing, medicine, landscaping or mathematics. It is also clearly not science. It is a combination of religion and rhetoric. Evidence that it is religion can be seen by looking at who promotes it. All of its promoters have an ultimately religious agenda.

Examining the rhetoric of ID may actually be a good reason to bring ID into science classes. To help busy classroom teachers, I have prepared the lesson plan below.


Grade Level: Adaptable for 9th through 12th

Time Estimate: 1-3 class periods

Purpose statement: Science is the search for explanations of the natural world. One purpose of science is to apply discoveries to solve the problems of humanity. This applied science has cured diseases, improved communications, enhanced medical practice, increased food supplies, and advanced other aspects of life. For science to benefit society, good science has to be taught in schools and colleges. One way to understand “good science,” is for students to examine bad science, e.g. Intelligent Design, as a contrast.

References Consulted: Various web sites linked in the text below.

Objective: The student will be able to state, in his/her own words, three reasons why Intelligent Design is not science.

Materials: Pictures and materials as described below.


I. Anticipatory Set

[Review the history of Intelligent Design using the timeline available at \\files\outbox\Education\showers.]

In 1859 Charles Darwin summarized the scientific discoveries up to that time related to the development of living systems in On the Origin of Species. As evolution came to be the basis of modern biology, it entered the public school biology curriculum. A battle developed as Fundamentalist Christians fought to keep evolution out of schools. In 1925, John Scopes was convicted of teaching evolution in violation of a Tennessee law. Evolution gradually pushed Biblical creationism out of science classes until in 1987 the US Supreme Court ruled in Edwards v. Aguillard that teaching creationism in public schools violated the First Amendment. This decision was supported by a statement opposing creationism as science signed by 72 Nobel Prize winners. Since that time religious advocates have attempted to get it back into the public schools. First called creation science the idea changed several times eventually becoming Intelligent Design.

II. Body of the lesson

[Explain in your own words] Intelligent Design, or ID, is offered as an explanation of the origin of the natural world and as an alternative to evolution. Part of the argument for ID is that the world is so complex it had to have had a designer.

[Ask] What is the purpose of a corn field? [Discuss]

[Show pictures of a corn field and clean ear of corn.]

[Ask] What characteristics of a cornfield indicate that it was designed? [Discuss]

[Show pictures of a weed-infested corn field and misshapen ear of corn with bugs.]

[Ask] Compared to the first field, is this field more complex or less complex?

[Discuss answers. The second field is more complex.]

[Ask] Which field is more efficient? [Discuss. The first field is more efficient.]

[Ask] Which field would you say had the better designer?

[Discuss. The designer of the first field is better.]

[Explain] Designed systems can be simple or complex. Designs that accomplish their purposes most efficiently give more reason to believe that they were intentionally designed to accomplish a purpose. A field of corn, weeds, soybeans, grass, and flowers would not give one reason to believe that the field was designed to produce corn.

[Show a picture of a Rube Goldberg device or a setup of the game Mousetrap.]

[Explain] A Rube Goldberg device is a system that is needlessly complex for the task that it is designed for. The children’s game Mousetrap is an example of such an apparatus. Rube Goldberg devices are humorous because needless complexity implies that their designer is not efficient, i.e. not intelligent.

[Explain] Computers read programmed instructions but if an instruction is nonsense, they stop. Imagine a computer that is capable of reading nonsense instructions, recognizing the nonfunctional command, ignoring it and going to the next potential instruction. Consider the following two programs where the string O, F, F tells the computer to shut off:

Program 1: OFF

Program 2:


Both programs function. It is the efficiency of the first program, not the complexity, which indicates it was designed for its purpose.

Designed nature infers a Designer of mistakes and inefficiencies. Humans have appendixes and tail bones. Men have breast nipples. Snakes and whales have vestigial legs. Fish and insects produce millions of offspring so that a few might survive. Ten percent of the sunshine striking a leaf is converted to useful energy. The fossil record is a catalog of millions of dead ends.


Program 3 is random but has the hidden complexity of at least ten English words. It also has inefficiency as 98% of the information serves no useful purpose.

[Ask] Does Program 3 indicate intelligent design? [Discuss.]

[Explain] Where DNA controls the organization of a human being, 98% of it does not serve any organizational purpose. While some of these “dead areas” are thought to serve some functions, the complexity does not indicate efficient design. [Discuss: Is a computer program of millions of lines of code efficient or intelligent if only 2% is functional?]

[Explain] Intelligent Design advocate Michael Behe argues the irreducible complexity of organs, organisms, and other natural systems requires that scientists accept the viability of ID as a scientific idea. This is a revision of the Blind Watchmaker argument that has been completely refuted by biologists most notably, Richard Dawkins. While removing part of a complex system can make it nonfunctional, biology shows complex systems can develop from accumulated changes in simpler systems.

ID proponent William Dembski promotes specified complexity as follows: “[I]f an archer shoots arrows into a wall and we then paint bull's-eyes around them, we impose a pattern after the fact. On the other hand, if the targets are set up in advance ("specified") and then the archer hits them accurately, we know it was by design.” This argument employs circular logic to convince us it is science. How do we know the minnow’s purpose is to be eaten by the trout? Because the trout eats it. Both the trout and the minnow are designed to a specified complexity because they efficiently serve their purpose. But the purpose is identified by the existing function of the organism.

III. Conclusion [Summarize main points:]

  1. Intelligent Design is the latest variation of Creationism promoted by certain Fundamentalist Christians
  2. Edwards v. Aguillard, supported by 47 Nobel Prize winners, declared that creation science is not science
  3. The arguments of intelligent design based on the complexity of natural systems are specious (at first appealing, but prove to be false).
  4. Intelligent Design is not science and should not be taught in public school science classes.

Note: The arguments against Irreducible complexity and specified complexity have been greatly simplified for space herein. Much more complete arguments are easily found on web sites like or or several good books on the topic.

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